Mickey Guyton was recently announced as the co-host of the 2021 ACM Awards alongside Keith Urban, who helmed the show solo in 2020. It won't be the first time the two stars have teamed up, though; in fact, it was their performance at the 2020 ACMs that gave showrunners the idea to invite Guyton to co-host, ACM CEO Damon Whiteside tells Billboard.

At the 2020 ceremony, Guyton performed her commanding "What Are You Gonna Tell Her?," a ballad that spells out the inequality women and Black people face both in the music industry and in society at large. Urban accompanied her on piano as she sang. Her performance was the first on the ACMs stage from a solo Black female artist, and it left a powerful impact on the show's executives.

"I'm sitting with the executive-producer team at Dick Clark Productions and we were watching that live performance, and we literally had goosebumps just watching her blossom onstage like that," Whiteside recounts. "It was so powerful watching Keith play piano for her. We were so moved by it. Literally, right after that, we were like, 'We've got to ask her to host with Keith next year.' We let the show cool and gave it a little time to breathe, but we were thinking about it from then."

When she steps on the ACMs stage, Guyton will make history once again: this time, as the first Black woman ever to host the show, and the first Black artist overall to do so since Charley Pride did it in 1984.

When the 2021 ACM Awards ceremony takes place in April, it'll once again air from three smaller venues in Nashville, as opposed to taking place in the show's pre-pandemic home of Las Vegas, Nev. Whiteside explains that showrunners are hopeful about a declining threat from COVID-19 in the near future, which could mean a return to Vegas is on the horizon in years to come -- or, maybe not.

"We're strategically looking at where we should take the show," he notes. "Being that we moved to Nashville, these last two years really showed us that we can be nimble. We have an open playbook at this point."

There's been another change to the show in 2021, in the form of a notable absence from the nominees list. Morgan Wallen, who was likely to be one of the year's top nominees, was removed from consideration for 2021 awards after video footage surfaced showing him shouting the N-word. That omission was a part of a more sweeping string of actions taken against Wallen, whose record deal was indefinitely suspended and whose music and likeness were pulled from a number of radio stations and other musical platforms.

Whiteside explains that the ACM's decision had to be made quickly, as news of the offending video broke on Feb. 2 and the second-round ballot of ACM nominees was set to go out on Feb. 10. "We felt that it could be a huge detriment to country music and to our industry if the following week a ballot came out with an artist that was in the spotlight with this negativity associated with it," he reflects.

"If we're dedicated to diversity and inclusion efforts -- which we are as an organization -- how can we just turn and look the other way in this case?" Whiteside adds, also pointing out that keeping Wallen on the ballot would be unfair to the deserving artists nominated alongside him. However, he notes, Wallen's blacklisting from awards cycles "is not forever."

The 2021 ACM Awards will take place on April 18, beginning at 8PM ET. The show will air live on CBS and take place in Nashville across three iconic Music City stages: the Grand Ole Opry, the Bluebird Cafe and the Ryman Auditorium.

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